The Armchair Quarterback’s Take Of The Week
The Effect Of Drafting Positions On Winning (The Defense)
This week’s Armchair Quarterback is part two of a two part series that takes a look at what positions have had the most effect on their team’s winning in regards to recent early NFL draft picks. The first part of the series looked at the results for the offensive positions and this week will look at both the defensive positions and the overall numbers when you put the offense and defense together.
If you missed part one you can find it HERE.
Here’s a blurb from the original post that explains how I arrived at these numbers:
I looked at a five year span of top ten draft picks from 2007-2011. The reason for that time span is because I wanted it to be relevant to the modern day NFL that is constantly adapting, but I also wanted the draft picks to have had some time to prove themselves and see if they might have helped their team to win. So every draft pick in this study has had at least three full seasons in the league. I then broke these picks into groups by positions (QB, RB, WR, OL, DT, pass rushers, LBs, CB, and S). I then looked at the records of the teams that drafted these players both before and after the player was drafted. I broke the records down into four categories: winning percentage of the team for the three years prior to the draft pick, the team’s record the year before the draft pick, the team’s record the year after the player was picked, and the team’s total winning percentage with that player on the roster.
What I set out to find is what kind of short and long term effect did drafting that player have on the team’s winning. Let me state for the record that I understand that wins and loses are determined by much, MUCH, MUCH more than who the team drafted with an early first round pick. That goes without saying. However, I do think that we can see some trends when we look at this data. The other thing I did was specifically look at the effect on winning that drafting a Pro Bowl player had. Teams aren’t setting out to draft JaMarcus Russell or Jason Smith. They’re setting out to draft Matt Ryan and Joe Thomas. So I wanted to see if hitting on a player like Joe Thomas, Calvin Johnson, or Adrian Peterson (all of which are Hall of Fame caliber players) equated to more wins for the teams that drafted them.
So here are the defensive players drafted in that five year window broken down by position:
So by looking at the individual players above you can see some bad players who’s team improved despite them and some good players who’s teams did not improve despite their good individual play. This backs up the stance that there is obviously more to winning than who your early first round draft pick is and how they perform. That having been said, are there trends that we can learn from? Here is a break down of each defensive position (all players and pro bowlers) and how their team improved from the year before they were drafted to the year after and how their winning percentage changed with them on the roster compared to the three years prior to being drafted.
The sample size isn’t very big, but this chart shows that the biggest long term improvement was seen by the teams that drafted Pro Bowl pass rushers, followed by Pro Bowl safety (although the fact that there was only one Pro Bowl safety, Eric Berry, makes that the smallest of sample sizes). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the teams that drafted Pro Bowl linebackers (non-pass rushers) and cornerbacks actually saw a decline in their winning percentage despite hitting on good players at those positions.
This final chart shows the change in winning percentage between the three years prior to the draft pick compared to the time with the draft pick on the roster for all the Pro Bowlers (offensive and defensive) selected.
So overall the teams that hit on Pro Bowl caliber pass rushers saw the biggest improvement while on offense it was the teams that drafted a Pro Bowl quarterback that saw the biggest bump in winning percentage. It truly is a passing league and the teams that have good quarterback play and disrupt the quarterback play of their opponents win the most games. I think the most interesting part of this whole exercise is looking at what great players haven’t impacted their team’s winning percentage. Going back to the offensive players, you can make a strong case for Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, and Calvin Johnson being the best players in the NFL at their positions and yet their teams have basically not improved at all with their additions to the roster. Also, players like Jerod Mayo, Joe Haden, and Patrick Peterson have all played well and made the Pro Bowl, but their teams’ records have not improved because of it.
So the question is, if your favorite team is drafting in the top ten, would you rather they take a player that looks like a “sure thing” (if that exists) at a position like WR or CB even though it doesn’t appear to lead to more wins or take a chance on a boom or bust player at QB or pass rusher that may have a greater effect on the team’s success if they do pan out? It’s a very valid question when it relates to this year’s draft. You have multiple QBs that many think have both high upside and a high bust factor in Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Johnny Manziel as well as a couple of elite pass rusher prospects in Jadeveon Clowney and Kahlil Mack. On the other hand there are prospects like WR Sammy Watkins and several of the offensive tackles that most feel are safe bets to be good pros, so what do you think teams should do? With the new rookie wage scale, missing on a QB isn’t the deathblow that it used to be. Teams can move on from a mistake after only a couple of seasons.
So what do you think teams should do? Would you gamble on a QB? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Now on to the Armchair Quarterback’s Odds and Ends of the Week………
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